Magazines & Newsletters: The Best and the Brightest

As the owner of a struggling independent bookstore, it is my hope--obviously--that my recommendations and reviews here will sell some books. We mail "Ëœem anywhere and love to hear of residence hall book groups, faculty studies and Sunday school classes who brave serious reading for serious times, and others whose lives have been enhanced by our wares. Some day, by selling said books, we might even be able to give our hard-working staff the raises they deserve. Unless you really don't care what you sell, though, hawking good books these days is, shall we say, less than lucrative.

CCO campus minister friends are my main audience, but I hope that some others may be listening in on our monthly conversations about books, Kingdom vision and contemporary Christian fidelity. Whether in campus outreach, youth ministry or other culturally-significant work, I hope my years of book reviews (some of which can be accessed at www.heartsandmindsbooks.com) have been useful. And at least a little profitable for us, which, when up against the goliaths of porno-selling market-meisters amazon-dot-whatever, et. al., seems ever tenuous. But don't get me started...

I digress. Our feeble bottom line amidst global consumerism is not my point this month. This time, I want to steer you away from Hearts & Minds and our inventory towards some resources such as newsletters, periodicals and the like.

Folks often ask where I turn for short essays, book reviews and other articles to stimulate the Christian mind. Of course everyone knows of Christianity Today, the flagship magazine of evangelicalism, and Sojourners, the standard Christian peace and justice mag (two regular must-reads in my estimation).

In these pages, I have regularly promoted Evangelicals for Social Action's (ESA) useful PRISM. Ron Sider has expressed his interest in the CCO specifically and collegiate ministry generally: all of our student leaders should help Sider, Campolo, Richard Foster, Tom Sine and other key evangelicals in the effort to keep this little monthly afloat. Call ESA at 610-645-9390 or email them at esa@esa-online.org. They've got some new videos to promote their wholistic, socially-active evangelism (and a new Web site organizing such church-based work, www.network93.5.org.) The new editor of PRISM promises to make it an even more lively collection of writing, good ideas and resources. Don't miss it! And don't miss modeling for your students your commitment to such organizations. Where else will they learn the peculiar habit we Christians have of supporting odd little missions, reading alternative magazines about stuff like justice, and utilizing such unsung but reliable sources for news and views? Contact ESA today!

BreakPoint with Chuck Colson is a monthly collection of cultural commentary laden with worldview language, reference to distinctively Christian thinking and the need for gospel folk to be engaged in current events. What a great little mag! Each piece can be read in a few minutes and is always very plainly written. If you read these for a month or two and haven't photocopied or somehow used them as conversation starters or illustrations for your classes or Bible studies, I'd say you should go back to Summer Training! For radical evangelicals longing for cultural reformation, these little commentaries are worth their weight in Kingdom gold. (That they include stuff on the arts and science, film and advertising reviews and references to college campuses makes them perfect for our use!) These worldviewish commentaries are actually printed versions of Colson's fine, daily radio broadcasts, which can be heard on the net at www.breakpoint.org. As a ministry of the renowned Prison Fellowship, BreakPoint can be acquired by calling 1-800-457-6125. They can also give you information on syndication--maybe you could get your campus radio station to air it daily.

Critique is one of the spiffiest-looking publications out there. It is published by CCO friends Denis and Margie Haack (they call their Schaeffer-esque ministry "Ransom Fellowship" and their home, quaintly, "Toad Hall.") It is a modestly-sized, monthly magazine of great substance, designed "to help Christians develop skills in discernment." They run brief excerpts from a variety of books and journals, they do thought-provoking movie and music reviews and occasionally point out articles from mainstream periodicals--say, Psychology Today or Atlantic Monthly--which Christians might thoughtfully discuss. In recent months, they've been recommending various Web sites, too (like a Bruce Cockburn site, or places for information on Christianity and homosexuality) which can either serve as a resource for developing the Christian mind or can be helpfully perused for the sake of gaining a window into our culture and its idols and ideologies...

What's more ("There's more?" you ask), throughout the brief publication are discussion questions and conversation-starters on the articles. Denis is particularly skilled in helping folk sort out a viable in-the-world-but-not-of-it strategy for relating to the world; his passion for wise and faithful discernment comes through as Critique's reason for being. Send them a couple of bucks or more and you get not only Critique, but also Notes from Toad Hall, Margie's delightful and, at times, painfully honest reflections on life, time, ministry and struggle through her day-to-day. (She is a great writer and we should pray hard for both of them as they are both working on manuscripts that should turn into books some day soon!) With our own Bonnie Liefer, Steve Garber and former CCO Training Director Donald Guthrie on their Board, you can imagine how appropos this ministry is for us. Don't you dare miss it! (And its classy and hip black and white graphic, done in an excellent printing job, makes for a very cool coffee table piece. Sure beats tacky junk mail from Ed McMahan!) Write to Ransom Fellowship, 1150 W. Center, Rochester, MN 55902 or email Ransom_Fellowship@compuserve.com.

Re:Generation Quarterly is a very, very important journal, written almost exclusively by deep-thinking Gen X-ers. Their subheading, "community transforming culture," and their creation of regional salons, on-line forums and chat groups illustrate their deep understanding of faith as embodied and communal. While they are clearly committed to historic, orthodox Christianity, their take on the faith is surprisingly fresh, creatively argued, and seems always probing and often profound. Not nearly as heady (or, thank God, as dull) as the very important First Things journal, it seems to share some sort of camaraderie with them. The full color graphics and modern photography are captivating, while the film and art reviews are significant. (And here's another CCO connection: Re:Generation Quarterly's publisher is William R.L. Haley, brother-in-law of Cami, brother of Taylor.) Although very, very hip, these guys are definitely the deep end of the evangelical gene pool... (Re:Generation Quarterly, 1-800-783-4903; editor:@regenerator.com; www.regenerator.com)

youthculture@2000 is a quarterly newsletter put out by former CCO staffer Walt Mueller. This is an amazingly helpful guide for parents and youth workers on the world of high-schoolers, their lives and culture. Without appearing reactionary, his indepth reports--on Eminem, Brittany Spears, Survivor and so forth--expose serious matters in youth culture and reflect on popular trends. (Many of these are available as reprints.) In most issues, Walt does a very nice book review of a youth ministry title, and his wholistic view of relevant and caring youth work comes through loudly and clearly. Also, he loads up a page full of the best Web sites that provide current info on bands, movies, TV shows and the like. Walt does a great live presentation, too, and his central Pennsylvania-based center is increasingly known for providing leadership in youth ministry circles. Praise God for his good work: we knew him when! (Center for Parent & Youth Understanding; cpyu@aol.com; www.cpyu.org; 717-361-8429)

Perspectives is the newsletter of the Institute for Christian Studies (ICS). I get excited by the oddest things, and even though this periodical is mostly in-house news from the small but scholarly Toronto grad school, I sometimes literally get on my knees thanking God for them when Perspectives arrives. Granted, there was a time in our circles when the late Peter Steen, official CCO troublemaker, in-house philosopher and staff prophet, had some of us believing that we would reverse the juggernaut of secular modernity by reclaiming and robustly applying the Calvinist worldview which links the sovereignty of God and the rule of Christ over every aspect of life to higher education and academic life. Biblically redirecting scholarship--the idea-world which powers and directs public life--was seen as the key to culture-wide reformation, and for that, of course, we needed our own seriously philosophical and Christianly conceived think tank and PhD-granting institution. Ergo: ICS.

(Forgive the digression, but it could be argued that the postmodern deconstructionists, riding a parallel track against modernity, just got there before we did and they have been leading the charge against the idol of scientistic reductionism that Steen warned against two decades ago. In our time, at least, postmodern scholarship has won the day and their take on things has trickled down from the ivory tower becoming the popular currency on the street; for better or worse, they are the culture-shapers par excellence. Not to brag, as it is a matter of shame that our salt and light witness was less than adequate, but those who, at Steen's insistence, regularly read Perspectives and followed the work of ICS were familiar with and equipped to deal with majordomo themes like postmodernism decades before other less-aware evangelicals, who are just now catching on.)

Anyway, the ICS was the center of the universe--the New Jerusalem, as we jokingly called Toronto--and Al Wolters, Cal Seerveld, Bernie Zylstra, and, later, Walsh & Middleton, were their prophets. Pittsburgh ministries such as CCO, PUCS, and of course, the Jubilee conference itself, are all somewhat in their legacy. It concerns me that we do not promote ICS much any more, sending our best and brightest students to study there. Get on the mailing list for Perspectives and stay informed about their educational efforts. Learn about their conferences, papers and the classes that they have been faithfully offering for more than 30 years. The occasional book review or call for papers just may help one of your sharper students or be intriguing to that faculty member to whom you've been witnessing. Their "Faith & Learning Network" database may be just what you need for further research. Some of their auxiliary efforts--art shows, political efforts, stewardship guidance--may be worth checking out. After requesting their newsletter, swing by and chat at their Jubilee booth next month. After all, they've been coming to every Jubilee since the very first year. (ICS, 229 College Street, Suite 200, Toronto, Ontario M5T 1R4; www.icscanada.edu; 1-888-326-5347)

Speaking of Pete Steen, his son and daughter-in-law both worked for the CCO in the early "˜80s. Todd is now a prof at Hope College and is the managing editor of the prestigious Christian Scholars Review, which is a serious academic journal you should know about. Every college library ought to carry it, so if yours does not, make that a New Year's resolution--to press your university to be inclusive of various perspectives and at least stock this journal. (Perhaps you could recruit a sympathetic faculty member to endorse it.) Email Todd at steen@hope.edu to ask for copies, subscription rates and plans to get this important tool for academic discipleship into the right hands. This really does cover academic subjects from very rigorous scholars--it would be an asset to Christian students who are doing research for papers as well as a witness to those faculty members who may not know that there is a tradition of serious thinkers who engage in what historian George Marsden has called "the outrageous idea of Christian scholarship."